2011: Printing Money

Looking back on 2011, either from the perspective of the market, Objectif Lune or myself: it has been a full year. Economy, disasters, bankruptcies and acquisitions. It was all there.

At the end of 2010, high profile stock market specialists estimated that 2011 could very well become ‘the year of the stock market’. The 2008 crisis was thought to be soon forgotten.

The Butterfly Effect

As in many industries, the printing industry’s behaviour is closely tied in with the economy. And 2011 took some unexpected turns. After a quiet period around the Greek economy, in February alarms are sounded, and in June/July it becomes clear that global business will have to be a bit more patient.

The Arabic Spring initiated a wave of change through the Middle East and northern Africa. Change seemed to come easier in some countries than in others, but what is certain, is that times of great change mean uncertainty. Uncertainty generally doesn’t help the economy either.

However sad these turns of events are for those negatively affected by the crisis, inherently, (economic) uncertainty drives businesses to look for optimizing their business processes: To embrace new and creative ways to be prepared for difficult times, and accommodate broader changes within the market. Initially, it may be a matter of survival, which can turn into a competitive advantage when the (global) situation improves….

Meanwhile, in March a major Earthquake, followed by a Tsunami struck Japan. Many printer manufacturers are Japanese in origin, or lean heavily on the Japanese industry. Production and availability of printer hardware stalled, which led many vendors to look for alternative revenue for example in the form of providing complete business solutions.

Printing in 2011

Classic bulk commercial printing has been under price pressure for years, and the toll can be seen when the economy winds down. 2011 shows that even the largest and best known brands can fall. Man Roland made a last minute escape from bankruptcy. Dark clouds appeared end of 2011 on the horizon for Kodak – where in January it filed for chapter 11. Both companies focus heavily on Graphic Arts printing.

In line with hardship in the commercial print area, new and creative ways need to be found there too. Topics like e-Delivery, cross-media, QR Code and cloud computing were buzzing around in 2011. More and more, just delivering a perfectly printed and finished piece is not enough. Customers look for broader offerings with more direct control and integration. Crises like the current come on top of a process of change in this market segment that has been going on for years, and are bound to increase the problem for those that entered the digital era late.

In the office and corporate segment, investment is also reduced in uncertain times, so focus is on keeping existing printing devices, dividing volume over existing smaller devices of originally different purpose and making more use of the department printers. In opposite, usually when the economy improved, focus would shift back to centralization of print and investment in bigger devices. Maybe not this time…

The Beginning of Change

In 2011, partially triggered by economic and environmental disasters, it has become clearer than ever that the line between IT and traditional printer industry is fading more rapidly. Business communication extends beyond the printer, and customers expect to be communicated with in the way they prefer. Of course, printing will remain playing an important role in businesses butoffering just the hardware however will no longer do. Any IT service provider will make a printer work, but from an IT perspectivem not any printer provider will make IT work. The added expertise in communications and printing solutions that is available within the printing industry is a USP now, but a lot of work will have to be done to transform printer suppliers into complete IT experts.

The global situation we’re in, will definitely force the market to change. Players everywhere need to think in a more global fashion. Because nobody can predict what that post-crisis future will look like, it is important that operational investments are done in a safe fashion, but do not block embracing new ways. Systems will need to be flexible and open.

To anticipate to this changing world, new and more flexible ways are critical for businesses around the world. Drupa 2012 will be more interesting than ever to taste what the future will be like. I’m confident it will sound the end of four difficult years for the industry – at least the Drupa song is better than in 2008!


Dow Jones Industrial Average (Google)
The Effects of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami on the Photocopiers Industry